What happened?:

My girlfriend is a resident (medical doctor) in a large institution in Italy. She has some 7-8 other colleagues, and all of them are exploited by their superior to do all the hard work in their place. They run the ward by themselves (which by contract they are supposed to work under supervision all the time), they sign therapy (if something goes wrong it's their fault), they are psychologically forced to work way more than what is in their contract (12h/day on average).

Being forced to run ward all the time, they don't have time to learn other important skills (like ultrasonography to name one, which is done by their superior alone while they run the ward). At the end of the year, they are forced to sign a document that certifies that they have done ultrasonography during the year (as per their contract). They do take a lot of other risks they are not supposed to take.

What her colleagues did?

Their colleagues don't seem to have reacted to this situation, even though they talk a lot about trying to change things.

What we've done so far?

My girlfriend and I decided to file an anonymous whistleblow explaining this situation to the institution, which resulted in a meeting with their boss, but eventually didn't lead to any change.

What now?

Now she doesn't want to create any more "problems", and is resigned to the fact that nothing can change, and don't want to file another whistleblow. She's psychologically destroyed, lost faith in her job that she loved, have lost empathy and everything.

What can I do?

I am thinking about another anonymous whistleblow that could force the boss to change things. Even though she doesn't like it, I'm ethically inclined to do something to change her situation.

Clarification: She really wants to become a Neurologist, the only way she can do that is complete a 4 years training after graduation (she's almost half-way). So basically she just can't change job, she could instead ask to be accepted in another Neurology school in the country (but both Department directors should agree, and it's not that easy since by contract you could change only for family reasons or for "serious reasons" which is a wide concepts). Her contract is a 38 hours/week one; it's also written that sporadically the resident could work up to 48 hours/week. She works 70-75 hours/weekly on average. And these hours are mostly unproductive due to repetitive tasks and lack of proper training from the attendings which work elsewhere alone.

Main reasons she's not left yet:

  1. Me, we started to live together 1 year ago.
  2. Her speciality colleagues, she knows that if she leaves, they would be left in an even worse conditions than they are now.

Whistleblow: It reaches directly the boss of her boss. So maybe the first time it went like: "ok, just let me talk to my residents and see what can I do". But since no one ever complained again to the bigger boss (Institutional) maybe they just considered the case closed... Moreover there is the ethical dilemma of filing another whistleblowing not telling my GF (which doesn't believe too much in it).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Jul 11, 2019 at 22:40

5 Answers 5


Do you work with your girlfriend in the same job or at the same company?

If not, don’t get involved. Your job is to listen, let her vent and make her feel better.

You should not be pressuring her to act or do things she might not want to do. You are creating more stress.

Buy some wine. Clean the bathroom. Make a nice meal. Give her a massage.

  • OP has stated that he works another specialty at the same institution.
    – Ben Barden
    Jul 9, 2019 at 19:52
  • I should note: Boyfriend- if one of my coworkers significant others came into my work unit telling me I should file a complaint, I’d look at them wondering who died and put them in charge. Offer suggestions and back off. You are not a hero or whistleblower. If you work there go go to Human Resources on your own and leave your girlfriends name out of it.
    – Gregtheeg
    Jul 10, 2019 at 23:08
  • 3
    Thanks for your answer @Gregtheeg . I already do my best to support her all the time. But you know, it's hard to see her burning out little by little due to this toxic work enviroment. And you know it's not easy to promptly react to this kind of situations when you live them in first place.
    – KingBOB
    Jul 11, 2019 at 21:26
  • I can see that you want to support her, but you can not fight her battles or take control of the situation. She can file another grievance but it might not achieve results. She can transfer. She can inquire about a leave of absence. Honestly, dropping out now so close to the end would be unfortunate. A vacation and break the conclusion is in order. Changing an academic and residency program midway through as a student is near impossible.
    – Gregtheeg
    Jul 13, 2019 at 1:29

This seems a straight forward case to form some sort of local worker representation inside the institution, or join a regional or national union and put pressure on management.

Such misuse seems pretty common in the health care sector. Since there was already a chance for higher management to properly clean up their institution it seems it is one of the many cases in the health care sector where such mismanagement is rather structural than individual misbehaviour.

As you work in the same place, you can approach this together. The more departments join, the better. In the end, the main drive for change needs to come from the affected department however. So at that stage it is something that mainly your girlfriend (and her colleagues) would need to do, but you - and everyone else can support them. And you could lay the groundwork by establishing first contact with a union representative.

Alternatively you can consider talking to the press or government officials outside the institution, in particular if the institution is publicly funded, but both comes with legal risks. Hence, the first step should be to get legal advice on who you can talk to and what you can reveal and decide then what the best way forward is. For this, you could directly talk to a lawyer. If you find an honest journalist, that cares about his/her sources they might also provide legal advice via their publisher.

On the other hand this is the bread and butter of unions, so talking to a union representative might well be the best start for this direction as well. Establishing strong union membership together with her colleagues (and possibly other ranks such as nurses) would also make it much easier to put pressure on management later on.


The real question is: how will your girlfriend's life change after she completes her specialisation? That should be the starting point of any consideration on her circumstances.

In any case: Italy has very strong unions. Other countries don't have this luck. Your friends should be talking to a union representative.

And... 70 hours per week are uncommon. In environments such as research labs or hospitals, this is much more common; if your girlfriend is halfway through, maybe she can try spending part of the last two years doing some exchange program? If not, as long as she is not subject to psychological or physical abuse, she might get on with in and power through the next 24 months. It's very difficult to get into specialisation schools. It might be worth going through this at the moment to be free later.

  • 1
    I hope so, thanks for the support.
    – KingBOB
    Jul 11, 2019 at 21:34

I'm assuming that your girlfriend otherwise loves her job and the people she's working with (and for) and wishes to remain working there if at all possible.

Your girlfriend should reconnect with the same manager who dealt with the whistleblowing report and say that the desired outcome did not happen to satisfaction.

Out of your new meeting, you need to define goals and expectations for your girlfriend that she's happy with. Also defines what happens if those goals are not met.

Also investigate if there's any impact on breaking the employment contract as a result of these issues (compensation, etc.)

  • The manager who dealt with the whistleblowing is the same one who's the source of the problem. They're the one abusing the system, at the cost of the girlfriend and coworkers. They're not going to change just because you say so, and they will look for ways to get rid of the squeaky wheel.
    – Ben Barden
    Jul 9, 2019 at 18:14
  • 1
    @BenBarden From what I understand from the question, the person dealing with the whistleblowing report is the managers senior, not the manager.
    – user44108
    Jul 9, 2019 at 19:35

I feel like the point here is being missed. This is the part of the question that really stood out to me:

Being forced to run ward all the time, they don't have time to learn other important skills (like ultrasonography to name one, which is done by their superior alone while they run the ward). At the end of the year, they are forced to sign a document that certifies that they have done ultrasonography during the year (as per their contract). They do take a lot of other risks they are not supposed to take.

Your girlfriend is training to be a neurosurgeon. This isn't a paper pusher. When she graduates, she will be in charge of saving people's lives. And she is not getting the training she needs, and furthermore she is saying she is getting the training she needs when she is not.

Think of the following: Your girlfriend graduates, gets her certification as a neurosurgeon, then she joins some hospital, and the first thing she is asked is "can you do this ultrasonography task?" What is she going to reply? If she says "yes", then she's going to do it wrong, because she's never done it before, and that could impact someone's life by getting a wrong diagnosis or something (I don't know what "ultrasonography" is, but based on the word I can guess it's a diagnostic tool).

If she replies "no", then her boss is going to say to her, in the best case, "well, aren't you a neurosurgeon? Every neurosurgeon can do an ultrasonography, you're a pretty shit neurosurgeon, you're fired and we'll find someone else who isn't incompetent", or in the worst case they could say something like "Here's a record of your education, in which you signed off repeatedly that you did training in ultrasonography, but you didn't. Did you lie on your certification?", and I can't see that discussion with the certification board going particularly well; your girlfriend could lose her certification entirely.

So the first thing is: What is the repercussion if your girlfriend fail to sign these documents which falsely assert she is getting the training she needs? If the repercussion is that she doesn't get to graduate, then she should talk to some licensing board, or some official at the academic institution she's studying, or somebody in authority, and let them know she is being asked to falsify documents. And she should use those exact words; this has nothing to do with her education, or with her supervisor, or whatever. That could be a legal liability for the hospital, and that's important, because a plausible legal threat or liability is the best way to get upper management to listen to the rest of what you have to say.

As for the rest of it, that mostly comes down to talking to an employment lawyer or a union or something like that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .